Coalition explores idea of metro equity
The area's growth trends aren't doing the region any good, an expert said.
By ROGER G. SMITH
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Myron Orfield finds cooperative efforts behind every recovery.
The Minnesota state senator and leading expert on equity among cities also finds infighting behind the low tax bases and worsening social conditions that mark too many areas.
That includes Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.
Faith-based groups often are the only ones that can push politicians to share wealth so everybody reaps the benefits, he said.
"I've seen some very sweeping change occur," Orfield said. "None of those things ever happened without people like you."
Coalition meeting: That was the call Thursday to members of ACTION, the Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods. The group is a coalition of 25 churches and groups representing more than 45,000 Mahoning County residents.
About 200 people heard the call at the start of a two-day economic summit.
A spirit of cooperation is rising in the Valley, said the Rev. Edward P. Noga of St. Patrick Church, chairman of ACTION's metro equity strategy group.
"First, last and always, cooperate," he said.
The summit continues today, when more than 100 elected officials will be among the 200 invited community leaders asked to do just that in a daylong session.
Orfield, president of Metropolitan Area Research Corp. in Minneapolis, explained the results of his study in the Valley.
Growing poorer: Statistics show that several areas surrounding Youngstown are growing poorer, faster. Those areas are losing tax base needed to pay for services.
"The same thing happening to Youngstown is happening to the interior rings," Orfield said.
Meanwhile, money is being spent to build new communities further away from the core that are having a hard time paying for needs such as sewers and roads.
There is no true growth, just expensive movement. None of it is doing the region any good, Orfield said.
"The pie isn't growing," he said. "The region is growing against itself."
The alternative, which has worked for many areas, is sharing a portion of taxes generated by new growth and redistributing the money.
Typically, 60 percent to 75 percent of the local governments in a region receive extra revenue through the setup, Orfield said. The rest don't lose money, they just see revenue grow slower than they would otherwise.
Over time, older cities and suburbs gain back enough tax base to stabilize and rebuild, he said.
"Every city, county, town and school benefits," he said. "It's all inter-connected."
Realizing connection: Opponents tend to be people who feel no connection to deteriorating areas, Orfield said, but they are connected. Friends, family members and jobs all are tied to such areas, even if a person isn't, he said.
There also is a moral component. Is it right to discard old cities and suburbs, he asked.
"What's going to happen if you don't care? What's your future?" he said. "Maybe it's cost-effective to recycle the community you grew up in."
ACTION asked several people to offer their reactions to Orfield's position. Metro equity:
U Gives the area the incentive to cooperate, said Arnold J. Clebone, a consultant on low-income housing.
U Is proactive and means a change in attitudes, said the Rev. Chuck Moffett of Canfield Presbyterian Church.
U Is a challenge to the future, said the Rev. Michael Harrison of Union Baptist Church, ACTION's president.
"Do we want to die, or do we want to live again?" he asked. "We don't have tomorrow. What we have is right now. The change begins right here, right now."
Former Youngstown Mayor Patrick J. Ungaro said he has more faith in grass-roots groups than in politics.
"I don't think the politicians will make it work. I think you can make the politicians work," Ungaro said, summing up the night's theme.